Sinking of the SS Robert G Cann

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 15 Feb 1946 to 16 Feb 1946
Location: Bay of Fundymap
Surnames/tags: davis-61772 bent-1208
This page has been accessed 818 times.

The sinking of the SS Robert G. Cann

At 3:30pm on Friday the 15th of February 1946, the 265 Ton SS Robert G Cann [1] left St John, NB bound for Yarmouth NS. After following a South Westerly course that kept the Cann about a mile offshore until Point Lepreau, Capt Ells was relieved by Captain Peters and headed towards Swallowtail light on Grand Manan Island, intending to overnight at North Head Harbour "because it looked like it would breeze up"[2] The Court of Investigation determined that at around 9 p.m., she passed Swallowtail Light, Grand Manan NB and set course for Tiverton. [2]. One hour later as she proceeded on her course across the Bay she encountered a raging blizzard driven by a strong northwest gale. This was about eight miles south east of Swallowtail[2]. The first heavy sea from the sudden storm broke three un-shuttered glass windows in the saloon in the stern pouring water into the saloon and into the engine room down stairs and mixing a slurry of water and ashes, at this point Captain Emery F. Peters, a Westport native who had been on this run for 27 years decided to turn back to the port at Grand Manan at 10:05 pm[2]. This clogged the steam pumps and prevented effective bailing of the ship[2]. The 34 year old steamer began to leak badly from an unknown source, possibly a sprung plank and at 3:30 am the ship was abandoned after the rising water put out her boiler fire[2]. She foundered 8 miles from safety[3]. When the captain ordered the ship abandoned, the crew safely launched a 17 foot lifeboat with proper supplies, which were promptly washed overboard by the high seas driven by the gale [2], leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few sodden blankets [4] . They then began the fight against a driving blizzard in sub-zero temperatures.

Thus began a nightmarish 19 hour ordeal, as their tiny craft was swept before the wind towards the Digby Neck. "I have never seen seas so big nor felt such intense cold," recalled Capt Arthur Ells, mate of the vessel, who took charge of the rescue attempt. "Our lifeboat was just a living foam all the time and the roar of the wind and seas drowned out everything."[5]. Ells and Seaman Joseph Muise manned the oars while everyone else bailed to stay ahead of the waves that kept breaking over the lifeboat. The crew began to succumb to the cold, Captain Peters died first at about 6 a.m. [4] about two hours after entering the lifeboat[5]. As each person died, Ells said a prayer for them[5]. Lawrence Jacquard died at 8 a.m.[5] then followed Lou David, Andrew Fitzgerald, Cleveland Bent, Dicky Davis, Tom Bartlett, Joseph Jacquard and Chief Engineer Harry Logan[4][5]. Without food or water the survivors continued to row, bail and chip ice away from the lifeboat. Late in the afternoon the weather cleared and the desperate survivors sighted Boar's Head on the Nova Scotia coast[5]. When Ells leaned over to tell Mrs Jacquard the good news, she mumbled "I cant stand it any longer," and died[5]. George Pendrick, the ship's Fireman died a few minutes later[5]. Shortly before landing Muise slumped over his oar - too cold and too far gone to row another stroke[4][5].

It was not until 11:30 p.m. on Saturday that the lifeboat grounded on the beach at Riley's Cove about a mile from the village of Lake Midway, Yarmouth County, NS[4]. Capt Ells exhausted after rowing for most of 19 hours, managed to bring Muise ashore and stumbled on frozen feet through the woods up a moonlit wagon track to the home of Mrs J.T. Dimock, where he he collapsed after telling his story[4][5]. The RCMP arrived at the scene after 1 a.m. Sunday and found Muise delirious and wandering in the woods. He died en route to the hospital[4]. Ells miraculously recovered from shock, frozen feet and an injured left hand[4][5].

A court of investigation was ordered on 20 Feb 1946 and the report was completed on the 17th of May 1946. The Court of Investigation found that: • The vessel: o was in good and seaworthy condition, and o properly supplied with lifeboats, life saving appliances and distress signals and o that the cargo was light, properly stowed and secured and did not shift and o that the hatches were covered, secured and protected, and o that she had the proper trim, freeboard when she left St John. • There were no storm signals flying when she left and the weather forecast "prophesied north west winds". As a result Captain Peters indicated that he planned on heading to Grand Manan and wait there to stay the night. • At 9pm when the Master set course for Tiverton the wind was still from the west at not less than 23 mph. • At around 10pm the wind shifted to the North West and increased to 33mph in less than 10 minutes, increasing to about 55mph at about 3 am. • Between 10:05pm when she was turned and 3:30am when she was abandoned the Robert G Cann made no headway towards Grand Manan from the point where she turned and sank 8 miles south east of Swallowtail Light. • The Master made all reasonable efforts to save the vessel and crew. • The vessel was lost as the result of filling with water from an abnormal leak in the hull of unknown location or origin. • The crew died from exposure to the elements in a lifeboat. • No wrongful act or default on the part of the owners or any person other than the master caused or contributed to the loss. • On the evidence the commissioner “cannot find any default or wrongful act on the part of the master, Capt Peters, except with respect to his neglect to have the shutters put up and locked over the windows before departing from St John. Waves over the stern created by a sudden northwest storm broke the windows and water thereby reached the bunkers and ashes choked the pumps. Later an extraordinary leak developed in the hull. In my opinion, the most that can be said is that the default or neglect with respect to the shutters contributed to the loss of the vessel and the lives of Capt Peters and his crew.” • The commissioner adds that in any such future case of a like nature even a conjectural contribution to a shipping casualty might afford grounds for suspending a Master’s certificate. • The commissioner also strongly endorsed a recommendation that coastal trading vessels operating in the Bay of Fundy be equipped with Ship-to-Shore radio sets.[2].

The Crew of the SS Robert G Cann[4][5]

Capt Emery Frank Peters, Master, Yarmouth NS

Capt Arthur Hartford Ells, Mate, Port Greville, NS (survived)[6] (sole survivor)

William Henry (Harry) Logan, Chief Engineer, Granville Ferry NS

George Pendrigh, Winchman, Yarmouth NS

Mrs Mary Elinor Jacquard, Stewardess, Yarmouth NS

Mr Lawrence J Jacquard, Steward< Yarmouth NS

LouisSt. Clair Davis, Seaman, Brooklyn NS

George Andrew Fitzgerald, Fireman, Yarmouth NS

Cleveland Charles Bent, Seaman, Yarmouth NS

Richard (Dicky) Davis, Fireman, Yarmouth NS

Joseph Jacquard, Seaman, Yarmouth NS

Thomas Vincent Bartlett, Seaman, Arcadia NS

Joseph Peter Muise, Seaman, Yarmouth NS

A memorial to those who lost their lives in the sinking is located at Riley's Cove NS. Links to two stories about the construction of the memorial follow and are shared with the permission of the author. and


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Library and Archives Canada, Wrecks, Casualties and Salvage - Investigations - Robert G Cann Text record of the investigation of the sinking of the Robert G Cann on 16 Feb 1946 in the bay of Fundy. File 9704-228, Ref Number RG12. Volume/box number 1251. File No. 9704-228 item 1199532 pages 76-89 of 101, copied 2019-09-12
  3. Shea Phil, Brier Island, Land's End in the Bay of Fundy, Hantsport NS, Lancelot Press, 1993, pp 84-85
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Campbell Steve, Come Back With Me, St George NB, Parsons Printing, 1989, pp21-23
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 Robinson Cyril, Men Against the Sea High Drama in the Atlantic, Hantsport, NS, Lancelot Press Limited, 1971 pp 102-104

  • Login to edit this profile and add images.
  • Private Messages: Send a private message to the Profile Manager. (Best when privacy is an issue.)
  • Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)

Leave a message for others who see this profile.
There are no comments yet.
Login to post a comment.